By Mary Scott Nabers
A recent study revealed some shocking facts. Researchers with Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization, provided data that points to more than 200 million Americans who must depend on contaminated drinking water. Chemicals that are commonly used to treat manufactured products for heat resistance and water repellence (PFAS or ‘forever chemicals’) are now in the drinking water of 60% of the U.S. population.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently established a new federal standard for allowable levels of PFAS in drinking water. Intensified regulation will ultimately push state and local officials to begin treatment efforts. Billions will be needed to fix this very significant problem and funding is beginning to flood into programs that will allocate it to remedy this issue.
In the first quarter of 2023, the EPA distributed $2 billion to states ready to remove PFAS and other contaminants from sources of drinking water.
Other funding sources are available as well. As of November 2022, several states — California, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Minnesota, Colorado, and others — along with more than 100 local entities have sued major chemical manufacturing companies that produce PFAS for financial reimbursement over water pollution damages. Some reimbursement funds have already been awarded. Other settlement funds are anticipated.
The state of Minnesota was awarded roughly $700 million for water projects following a 2018 settlement with a chemical manufacturer regarding PFAS found in the water supplies of 14 communities. Regional and state officials will collaborate to disburse funding to projects designed to improve public water systems and protect the purity of drinking water. These projects are currently in the planning stages and the state’s remaining $675 million will be allocated to local officials to support them.
A new water treatment plant will be funded by a settlement grant in Woodbury, MN. The municipality received $12.5 million in settlement funding to use for designing a new water treatment plant and a network of water pipelines. The 14 miles of pipeline will direct the city’s water to the treatment facility and then send it back to homes after the water is safe.
In some cases, the prevalence of chemical contamination extends beyond water infrastructure and contaminates other community assets. The city of Decatur, AL, settled with one of the world’s largest chemical production companies after industrial contaminants were discovered at a municipal recreation center. A settlement of $98.4 million was announced and the funds will support a replacement recreation center and an accompanying park. City officials have unveiled concept design work for the new center and a $55 million budget for the project has been announced.
In November of last year, the city of Philadelphia joined the list of municipalities suing a large chemical company after “forever chemicals” were identified on municipally owned sites and in local drinking water supplies. The city’s need for improved water treatment was compounded at the end of March after a pipe ruptured and leaked more than 8,000 gallons of chemical solution into the Delaware River, which millions of Philadelphians rely on for drinking water.
North Carolina’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against major chemical production companies involved in the manufacture of a fire suppressant containing PFAS. That happened after contaminants from the chemical product were found in water supplies at the Piedmont-Triad International Airport as well as several military bases. Recently, the state’s Department of Environmental Quality disbursed $463 million for clean water-related projects in 80 communities. Projects will be designed to remediate and prevent the continued presence of PFAS in drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater systems.
Several local officials in North Carolina are partnering to deliver one of the state’s major water supply investments — one of the projects that stands to benefit from potential settlement funding. Officials in Chatham County, the city of Durham, and the town of Pittsboro formed the Western Intake Partnership last year to oversee the Jordan Lake Water Supply Project. The wide scope of the project includes a new water treatment facility, intake facility, pump station, and pipelines for water transmission. As the first phase of development proceeds, the partnership will identify sites for new facilities and evaluate treatment processes. Preliminary plans for the project suggest work will be completed in 2031 at a pre-inflation cost of $89 million (not including land acquisition), which today amounts to $110 million.
The state of Maine is one of the most recent entrants to the ongoing legal proceedings against producers of PFAS. Last month, the state sued several chemical manufacturers after discovering the contaminants in water supplies throughout the state. As Maine pursues legal recourse, rampant levels of contamination are driving massive investments in water projects. Recently, $1 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act was allocated for the design of a new water resource recovery facility in the town of Rockport. Now, the concept design has been approved and an $18 million project will be launched.
As already stated, funding for projects to ensure clean and pure drinking water for citizens is abundantly available. However, additional funding resulting in multi-million-dollar settlements is also going to result in even more funding for water projects over the next several years. Contractors able to partner with public entities will find hundreds of opportunities for collaboration in the near future.
As President and CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc., Mary Scott Nabers has decades of experience working in the public-private sector. A well-recognized expert in the P3 and government contracting fields, she is often asked to share her industry insights with top publications and through professional speaking engagements.